A FEW MINUTES WITH … Ben Laurie

POSITION: Chief engineer, Ascension Parish.

AGE: 37.

SALARY: $78,686.

The Walker native and LSU graduate began his career in New York, designing landfill gas recovery systems before returning home to Louisiana, where he worked on groundwater remediation projects for a New Orleans engineering firm. Then, Laurie shipped off to the West Coast, moving to Washington to design residential, commercial and industrial developments. But the draw of home pulled him back four years later, returning in 2008 to work just 20 miles south of his hometown for the Ascension Parish government. Laurie worked as an engineer in the parish’s Planning and Development Department before being promoted by Parish President Tommy Martinez in late 2010 to head the parish’s new consolidated Engineering Department.

What are the biggest concerns facing Ascension Parish’s road grid and traffic structure?

Large portions of the system are rapidly approaching capacity, and a few places have already exceeded capacity. The funding necessary to comprehensively address these systemic shortcomings is not available. A proposed half-cent tax voted down last fall sought to strategically address many of the major problem areas in the short term and put in place the foundation for long-term system capacity improvements.

With limited funding dedicated to roads, how do you address those concerns?

We are pursuing state and federal funding as well as working aggressively to more efficiently utilize the funding that is available. One major opportunity to improve efficiency is the state-of-the-art pavement management program for all parish-maintained roads. We are targeting roads with maintenance activities that will provide the most benefit for the least dollars with the goal of eventually improving the overall system. A better maintained system will cost less to maintain, and in time — five to 10 years — will allow maintenance dollars to begin going toward capacity improvements.

What are the challenges facing the plans for a parishwide sewer system?

This is a monumental task. There are a lot of moving parts that have to come together seamlessly for this program to work. The biggest challenges to parish leadership will be to boil down all the competing ideas and interests into a viable program that can grow organically over time. The funding issue is huge, but I think funding affects the rate at which the service grows, not whether or not it happens.

What’s the timetable for having parishwide sewer and water systems?

There are too many variables to make a prediction. If funding were not an issue, the sewer infrastructure could be built out in 20 years.

Advocate staff writer
Bret H. McCormick